Wilco

Being There

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Wilco barely had time to figure out just what sort of band they were going to be when they cut their first album, 1995's A.M., and it wasn't until they hit the road that they began to fully emerge from the shadow of Uncle Tupelo, the band co-founded by Wilco leader Jeff Tweedy. As Wilco developed a distinct sonic personality of their own, Tweedy became more ambitious as a songwriter, exploring thematic and melodic elements he'd never considered before, and the band was a very different animal when it returned to the studio to cut its second album. Released in 1996, Being There was a stunning leap forward for Wilco, a sprawling double-disc set that confirmed they were far more than just another Midwestern alt-country outfit. Jay Bennett joined Wilco following the recording of A.M., and while his guitar work was solid, it was his keyboards that expanded Wilco's sonic palette and helped redefine their attack, sharpening their rock moves, sweetening their pop side, and adding a sinewy groove throughout. Tweedy, Bennett, and their bandmates (Max Johnson on fiddle, banjo, mandolin, and Dobro; John Stirratt on bass; and Ken Coomer on drums) developed a new sense of daring, willing to bounce from indie rock noisemaking ("Misunderstood"), nervy autobiographical studies ("Red-Eyed and Blue"), and retro-pop stylings ("Outta Mind [Outta Sight]") to boozy Stones-influenced rock ("Monday") and country weepers more emotionally layered than they'd even tried before ("Say You Miss Me"). While there was still twang in Wilco's formula, Being There broke them out of the alt-country ghetto, confirming they were as versatile as any band in the indie rock firmament, and they consistently sounded joyous and fully in command regardless of the detours they took. Being There's 19 tracks are individually outstanding, and taken together, they add up to a three-way cross between Neil Young's Harvest, the Rolling Stones' Exile on Main St., and Big Star's 3rd that still leaves room for some impressive tricks of its own. If Being There isn't Wilco's best album, it's the one that staked their claim as an important American band, and it's a rich, dazzling experience from beginning to end.

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